2020 Outstanding Industry Partnership Award Winner

Trade Allies Program

Colorado Springs Utilities
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Describe the goals of your program.

The Landscape Professional Trade Allies Program has four main goals:

  1. Market Transformation: increase purchase and install of efficient irrigation products.
  2. Increase number of contractors promoting and participating in our rebate programs.
  3. Improve contractor knowledge and awareness of efficient irrigation practices to decrease the amount of water wasted in the community and improve landscape management.
  4. Strengthen relationships with the landscape industry.
  5. Acquire 16.6 AF of water savings in 2019.

What need or problem are you trying to address with this program?

Traditionally, water conservation groups provide programs and educational events for customers. We’ve had great success in educating customers who seek our help but are not reaching enough to make a transformative difference in the sustainability and successful management of urban landscapes. To impact more customers, we contacted local landscape professionals to see how we could better support them in serving our mutual customers. The result was a “train-thetrainer” approach to offer wins for both the contractor and our customers, have higher impact and generate a noticeable market shift in irrigation best practices and landscape management.

Describe how the program increases engagement with landscape and/or irrigation professionals within the community you serve.

This program engages local landscapers and irrigation professionals in three ways:

Free to low-cost educational events: Through conversations with our local landscapers, we understood that education was important to them but currently not available. To support their need and ours, we offer classes on efficient watering approaches, techniques and equipment for little to no-cost, inviting local landscape professionals and large landscape managers.

Since program launch, we have offered five (5) Irrigation Association classes and eight (8) Landscape Industry Coupon classes. These classes/events have brought in over 247 attendees from more than 70 different organizations.

To further promote professional services, we also offered Irrigation Association certification exam sessions. These certifications are what we suggest as professional guidelines when our customers ask about hiring a good contractor.

Increased communication through a growing email list: By attending an educational class, landscape professionals are enrolled in our email list. This list is used to create a direct and open line of communication between us. Colorado Springs Utilities uses this list to provide information on rebates, class offerings, regulation changes and water storage level updates. Ultimately it allows us to communicate directly to over 375 local landscape professionals.

In 2019/20 we used this list to inform the landscape community about proposed changes to the City’s outdoor watering regulations. Landscape professionals were emailed the proposed changes and invited to review meetings to provide input on the regulation changes. By working together, they influenced how we designed and implement the regulations which will assure a more collaborative approach in promoting watering efficiency across our community.

Relationships that promote a better line of products and our rebate programs. Our programs have always focused on providing information directly to our customers. Although this method is valuable, it misses a key component to the customer supply chain, the contractor. When we engaged irrigation suppliers in this program, irrigation suppliers reported that less than 30% of the irrigation equipment they sell to contractors are high efficiency products. To encourage landscape professionals to learn about and use the best and most efficient irrigation products, our rebates, and other resources, we designed a new program in 2019 called the Landscape Industry Coupon. This program awards each company a $500 coupon for attending a two-hour class on efficient irrigation techniques, equipment and water management. We even include local case studies to help them sell these services and equipment to our shared customers.

This program increases engagement from suppliers by offering a coupon to be redeemed at five, local participating suppliers: DBC, CPS, Ewing, SiteOne and Horizon. These suppliers were responsible for marketing the classes to their customers, supplying food/refreshments for the events, giving the discount directly to their customers, and then invoicing us with the coupon totals and customer receipts each month. Most suppliers chose to offer additional perks for redeeming the coupon. One supplier offered all customer their “preferred pricing” while another gave them an additional $50 off their total. Overall, the support and participation we received from the suppliers was amazing.

Through this program, we developed a stronger relationship with our local suppliers and a means by which the right irrigation equipment was being used in our service territory. We also created an opportunity to partner together by hosting additional classes for ALCC Southern Chapter and Ewing Irrigation. These partnerships continue to foster good relations between those that ultimately manage the water used in the community landscape and those that supply this precious resource.

Describe how the program incorporates smart technologies, efficient technologies, best practices, or programs related to outdoor water conservation.

All educational classes have an element of water conservation. The beginner irrigation tech class (CIT) offers introductory best practices like successful gluing techniques, head layout and nozzle alignment. The more advanced classes (CIC and Advanced Irrigation Maintenance and Design) teach attendees how to raise their professionalism by understanding the complexities related to scheduling, pressure, flow, proper maintenance and customer relations. Lastly, the landscape irrigation auditor training gives contractors the knowledge and skills to scientifically assess a zone and evaluate performance. Together, these classes raise the knowledge, professionalism and services of professional landscape technicians, while managing water wisely.

The Landscape Industry Coupon offers two classroom hours covering the fundamentals of efficient irrigation including: scheduling techniques, matched precipitation, soil infiltration rate, soil holding capacity, pressure and flow problems. It also covers the potential water savings of efficient technologies such as smart controllers, flow sensors, high efficiency nozzles, heads with check valves and rain sensors, thereby showcasing how these efficiency upgrades can help save the customer water! For many attendees, it introduced the idea of offering water management as a service to customers and provided tools like a Water Budget Calculator and an Historical Water Use Analysis guide to help get them started.

How is the program’s success measured?

All classes are measured by surveying the participants. We ask a series of questions about how impactful the class was, to how many customers they serve and what other educational classes would help them in their work.

The Landscape Industry Coupon is initially measured by participant surveys, the water savings estimate of the equipment purchased by the coupons, and the number of new contractors promoting our rebates. Long-term results, such as efficient irrigation equipment market transformation will be measured this coming year with the help of the suppliers.

What are the results of the program to date?

The participant survey showed:

  • An increase from 42-74% to 68-74% (see graph comparison in End of Year Report) of participants who plan to install efficient product frequently (60% of the time or more).
  • An increase from 42% of professionals who have used our rebates, to 90% who are very likely to promote our rebates to their customers.
  • 6.74 out of 13 efficient irrigation practices currently in use (pre-class survey).
  • An additional 3.78 efficient practices that they plan to implement after attending. (The most common new practices included: checking the operating pressure at the head, evaluating the soil type, watering according to the season & watering one-half inch each watering day.)

Water savings: 48 of the 60 coupons awarded were redeemed. The total equipment purchased with these coupons was: 1,275 heads, 2,389 nozzles and many pressure measuring devices. This product has an estimated water savings of 13.99 acre-feet.

Rebate participation: In 2019, we saw six new rebate participants due to these programs. The rebated items included: smart controllers, efficient nozzles, heads with pressure regulation and rain sensors.

What is the timeline for implementation of the program?

The Trade Allies Program officially started in the fall of 2018 and will continue into the foreseeable future. Due to the success of this program we are looking for ways to increase program offerings among other trade professionals who support our customers’ water use inside and out.

In 2020, we have plans to offer the Landscape Irrigation Auditor Training (completed in March), Drip Irrigation Design and Maintenance (fall of 2020) and the Landscape Industry Coupon classes (mid-late summer). We also will launch new programs related to local regulation changes and will continue to work closely with landscape professionals through these challenging times.

What is the service area for the program (i.e., population size and/or geographic area)?

We currently serve approximately 135,000 residential customers, 8,200 commercial customers and have a water service territory that covers 195 square miles. Each year we provide approximately 73,000 acre-feet of water to our customers, with an estimated 30% of that used in the landscape.

What are the costs associated with the program?

The total investment of the Trade Allies Program from Fall of 2018 thru 2019 was $53,671. This consists of $15,862 for the educational events and $37,809 for the Landscape Industry Coupon. Below is a breakdown of those costs.

Education Events: $15,862, 156 attendees, over 2,600 customers impacted

  • Cost of classes: $11,350
  • Cost of books: $4,12.80
  • Total educational hours: 1400
  • Investment by attendees: $49,000 (estimated $35 per hour rate, not included in total)
  • Investment by local suppliers: ~$5,000 (All food and beverage were provided by local suppliers. (When we don’t have to pay for food, we can afford to purchase the books for the classes. This is also not included in the total.)

Landscape Industry Coupon: $37,809, 91 attendees, 3,436 customers impacted

  • Cost of coupons redeemed: $23,809
  • Utilities labor costs to create, manage and maintain the program: $13,500
  • Miscellaneous print costs: $500
  • Total cost per acre-foot of water saved: $2,702 (less than 20% of our traditional water supply cost!)